Sprung: Rota Spring Farm – Sterling MA

3 03 2014

A winter in the vortex doesn’t make most people yearn for ice cream, or if they do it’s snuggled next to the fireplace with a warm cup of cocoa nearby to balance out your body temperature. Thankfully for those of us who enjoy standing in outdoor lines and seeing the livestock that were the genesis for a scoop, there are places like Rota Spring that opened for business the first weekend of March.


I was down in Providence on the day that the windows in Sterling opened for the season, but sent my folks there for that first day and was promptly regaled with tales of long lines and people stocking up with quarts to go with their cones. Two days later I drove and picked up my niece and nephews once school was out for the day and we set out to Sterling.

When even a three-year-old doesn’t mind standing around in 20 degree temperatures for ice cream, you know there is something special at play. For me this is the standard-bearer of local ice cream, the reason we started this blog in the first place to try to find local ice cream that competes. While there have been some quality contenders, Rota Spring is still king of the hill, no matter how remote that hill may seem to some people. It’s a destination that is worth the trip.

Last fall, there was turmoil when word spread that their famed Indian Pudding ice cream was going to be falling off the menu due to ingredients no longer being available. For many people, this flavor alone was reason enough to make this a regular destination. When it popped up on my twitter feed that Rota had brought the flavor back in a revamped form, it was imperative to give it a go. Of course with two scoops, to pick I also threw a scoop of Cowabunga Crunch on top.

The top scoop was a caramel-swirled vanilla with chips, praline pecans, and sugar cookies, and was a perfect preamble to the ice cream season. When I got below that to the Indian Pudding, that’s when it was shown that the game was certainly on. With a lighter mouthfeel than the original recipe, this didn’t lean so heavily on the cornmeal to give it a distinctive texture, but the powerful flavor punch that the molasses brings is a peaked joy to anyone who enjoys great flavor. The smoother consistency might actually help make this appeal to an even wider audience who had been taken aback by the grittiness that the meal had traditionally supplied.


I know, it’s weird to see me eating a bowl rather than a cone, but while trying to wrangle three kids on my own as well, the ability to put this down at times was essential. The cold chased us back to the car to do the eating anyway, though we did it while peering over the snowbanks and watching those cows graze from feeding troughs and the random shoots cracking through the mud. Spring is here, even if there’s still going to be permafrost for another month.

Cone – kiddie $3.15 small $3.95 large $4.95

Sundae – kiddie $4.40 small $5.40 large $6.40

Milkshake Frappe – $4.95  extra thick $5.50

Rota Spring Farm

117 Chace Hill Rd, Sterling MA 01564

978 365-9710

Open early March-Thanksgiving

March & September: 11:30a-9p; April-August: 11:30a-9:30p; October:11:30a-8p; November: 11:30am-6p


Jim’s Ice Cream Barn – Salem NH

8 07 2012

July is National Ice Cream Month, and today we’re pre-gaming for next Sunday’s more specific holiday: National Ice Cream Day. With time in the car under air-conditioning not a problem in the least, Tim and I headed to New Hampshire and found ourselves just across the state line in Salem at Jim’s when I landed a Cinnamon Coffee Cake ice cream cone.

There isn’t much of a history to Jim’s despite being part of a barn that looks like it could long have been part of this landscape. Owners Jim and Kim Solloway opened Jim’s in July of 2010, yet the place seems as though it’s deeply entrenched in the local community already: the only thing missing is the wall full of photos of different Little League teams.

There’s ample seating inside, enough that I was a bit surprised to find that the Barn wasn’t opened year round. I know that if I were a kid whose birthday was in February (rather than my actual August), I’d want to bring my friends here for a party … or at least get an ice cream cake. Outside of the barn there’s a nice bench to sit at, and there are picnic tables and other seating around the barn, though they may be more officially part of other businesses in the building. The only thing missing is much of a view, as what you see is the backside of commercial buildings that face route 28.

Once inside you realize the wealth of options available as two large boards are needed to cover the flavors – one for homemade ice cream, the other for soft serve. It’s always nice when there are new flavors that you need to read descriptions of to figure out what they are (my brother went with the Mocha Carmela by the Sea), and I quickly realized that what I wanted was the cinnamon coffee cake.

The flavor was spectacular with a golden yellow cake ice cream with a crunchy cinnamon swirl that infused every bite. It wasn’t the gooey sloppy cinnamon bun that I was expecting but instead it really was the more grown up cinnamon that you usually find as part of the topping of an actual crumbly coffee cake. The cake ice cream made this a richly decadent delight, and isn’t that exactly what the best ice cream is supposed to be.

This is so close to Massachusetts that it’s tough to think of it as New Hampshire, but then again we did stop at a state liquor store between the state line and here, so it’s not right on the line. The only big shock was that we didn’t spy any fireworks closeout sales in this stretch. Oh, and if you’re going to go with the salty caramel flavor that my brother had, our recommendation is that you go for the pretzel cone to help draw the salty flavor to the fore.

Cone – kiddie $3.35 small $3.85 large $4.35

Sundae – kiddie $4.35 small $4.85 large $5.35

Frappe $5 (?) or go on Thirsty Thursday when they are $4

Jim’s Ice Cream Barn

5 Kelly Road #1R, Salem, NH 03079

603 890-3500

Open April-October

Daily noon-9p (8p before Memorial Day)


Meadowlands – Tewksbury MA

31 05 2012

Sometimes when you’re in north Middlesex County, everything seems to get overshadowed by Kimball’s. For all of the time my dad has spent finding every shortcut and backroad, this place was wholly unfamiliar and barely a half mile off of 495’s exit 37. While here, I had a sugar cone with scoops of Triple Threat.

I can imagine that when Meadowlands opened in 1964, the view behind the ice cream stand was uninterrupted green. Nowadays, you need to turn to the proper angle to keep a development of houses out of that vista, but what is here seems as though it’s been here since that first opening day.

There is a meadow behind the stand, and on the left side, picnic tables dot the places where the parking lot meets the grass. There’s a gigantic tree off to the right and a few tables bunched beneath it. Behind the mown lawn is a more swampy territory full of cat tails that offers up some premium ground for bird watching.

The menu board seemed as though it hadn’t been changed since 1964 with a majority of the flavors being very classic, no blue ice creams for kids and no cookie dough or cake pieces. When I got to the bottom of the list though, I was stuck by a big ‘huh?’ when I read Triple Threat. Not the name for any ice cream flavor that I’d ever heard of before. Their special was reverse chocolate chip, but it was out, so I opted to see if I could get threatened triply.

The ice cream was a chocolate and it included pieces of brownie and chocolate chips. Despite all of the chocolate, the flavor was hoping to be more fudgy than it actually is. The cream predominated, making the ice cream take the flavor of chocolate milk. While nothing was overwhelming, it’s that balance that kept this  oversized kiddie cone from being too much. These guys do the basics right, don’t go expecting bells and whistles, but this seems like classic local ice cream in the Hood and Brigham’s tradition rather than a small batch extravagance.

I’ve now got a new camera again, which should help reviews become more regular again. I was trying to do this without photos, but my sketches of cones and buildings were indecipherable. Now that’s fixed and I even took pictures of the birds flying around back here (I haven’t got a report from my nephew as to what they actually are yet though so I’m stuck merely saying birds).

Cone – kiddie $3 regular $3.50 large $4.50

Sundae – junior $4.25 regular $5.50 jumbo $6.50

Frappe – regular $5.50 large $6.50

Meadowlands Homemade Ice Cream

978 454-6701
Open St Patrick’s Day to Columbus Day
St Patrick’s Day to Memorial Day 11a-9p, Memorial Day to Labor Day 11a-10p, Labor Day to Columbus Day 11a-9p


Mad Maggie’s – North Andover MA

18 02 2012

Consecutive February days in the 50s have really messed with everyone’s psyche. The only places with any snowpack have done it through the magic of compressors and late nights that do dip below freezing. Even the Boston Globe mentioned that ice cream sales have been crazy lately. When Tim & I stepped in here, most of the tables were full – he had a Coffee Cinnamon cone, me? Black Raspberry Cookie.

At some point this store used to be in North Reading, only some clean-up photos from before the 2009 season seem to imply that’s when they moved here to North Andover in a spot across from the Lawrence Regional Airport. Located at the merger of 133 & 125, some incarnation of this shop has been in place since at least 2003, since their website lists Flavors of the Week from that far back.

Even in this mild February, no one was getting their cones from the outdoor window and wandering around, but there is an outdoor seating area and the back lot looks out onto the Northwest corner of Lake Cochichewick. Inside are a slew of tables with ice cream ephemera on the wall, including a patchwork of t-shirts from their old location including a clever one that said, “‘Stressed’ is ‘Desserts’ spelled backwards. Chill out. Have two scoops!”

This is definitely a place to try something interesting. Heck, while we were there there was a new flavor added to a ‘Specials’ board that already had six flavors on it. They trademarked Candy Store Floor at this spot, and their Ground Hog Stew was a variant of that all-in philosophy. This past Friday they put out their Maple Bacon, with locally sourced maple from Turtle Lane Maple Farm in town. My taste was fantastic, as bacon most always is as long as it still has got an element of crunch. I also tasted the Thai pineapple, but even with the Asian spices, pineapple in ice cream still seems more a summer thing. I threw caution to the wind and went with a black raspberry cookie scoop in a sugar cone.

That this is a regular flavor on their menu board is a testament to Mad Maggie’s. This is a great dark black raspberry cone with a massive swath of Oreo cookie crumbles. It’s a magnificent thing just to look at, but thankfully it tastes even better. It makes me want to go back and have a two scoop sundae with it and the bacon as a  perfect mid-winter combo.

The concept of Flavor of the Week is a good way to look at this place – homemade ice cream with inventive flavors – and the best of those graduate to regular status. It’s a good way to make people smile, and with a bell at the exit for people to ring ‘if it was delicious,’ well, I really made it peal.

Cone – kiddie $2.82 small $3.62  large $4.38 six-pack $6.26

Sundae – mini $4 small $4.85 large $5.65

Frappe $5.61 ex-thick $6.54

Mad Maggies Ice Cream

1025 Osgood Street, North Andover, MA

978 685-2814

Open year round

Hours for Winter:  Friday 1-9:30p, Saturday noon-9:30p, Sunday 1-8p


Nona’s – Hingham MA

28 01 2012

Aside from those couple days when an inch or so of snow has fallen and slowed things down, most of this January could be pretty easily confused with March. It’s not just me, I can tell that since all of my plants are starting to sprout spontaneously. That meant it was time for a ice cream trip and we head to Hingham where I found my way to a Chocolate Malt cone.

March will mark eleven years in business for this shop nestled right in the heart of Hingham Square. Prior to being here, this space had been occupied by a TCBY. When it closed, Krissy Donahue was managing the place, she and her husband then put Nona’s into these two storefront spaces. Ice cream, sherbet, nonfat frozen yogurt, and ices are all handmade here.

The room seemed like a gathering place on this Saturday afternoon, it was warm enough that people were craving some ice cream, but not so warm that people were ready to walk the streets with a cone. As a result the seemingly ample seating in the front of the store was all filled up. There were benches out on the sidewalk though with Tim and Tom along we wound up wandering through the old graveyard looking at three hundred year old headstones.

The options for flavors seemed at first as though things were at little basic, but even with a limited menu in the winter there were a lot of fun options. I tasted the ginger, which had a nice flavor and pieces of candied ginger in it, and Tom had a bowl of it, but I went with the chocolate malt and Tim had the coffee oreo, which I may have had if he hadn’t ordered it right before me.

The chocolate malt made for a pretty cone… the extra density that the malt provides usually does help things hold together. However, gravity took over pretty quickly so I had to go on attack mode to keep from making a massive mess of things. The chocolate is rich and smooth, but not too dark, and well, malt is going to merit comparison with a frappe, and it fares pretty favorably. The biggest issue was that somehow i ate the thing like i was sucking down a frappe too.

Hingham Square doesn’t have much there, though it’s pretty amazing to see the train tracks run under it all. The water is visible from the hills of the cemetery, and shows just how much of a classic New England town this is. And the Snug is a heck of a place for a pull from the tap (thumb’s up on the Wachusett milk stout and the monte cristo).

Cone – kiddie $2.39 small $3.39 medium $4.05 large $4.45

Sundae – small $4.55 medium $5.10 large $5.50

Frappe – regular $4.55 malt $4.75 thick $5.05

Nona’s Homemade Ice Cream

781 749-3999

Open year round

Hours (winter) Sunday-Thursday 11a-9p, Friday & Saturday 11a-10p


Treadwell’s – Peabody MA

31 12 2011

Without snow on the ground, the New Years Eve ice cream quest really doesn’t feel much different from any quest for ice cream through the Fall. I took my buddy Tom, who’s to blame for the slow pace of entries thanks to getting me an ice cream maker for my birthday. We lunched in Salem and snuck back to Treadwell’s where I got a Heavenly Hash cone and Tom a Chocolate Raspberry Truffle.

Treadwell’s has been in Peabody since the end of the second World War. In 1946, returning veteran Russ Treadwell set up an ice cream stand that has been part of the north shore ice cream landscape since. In 2000, the stand was bought by the Gould family who continue to operate the ice cream stand the whole year round.

114 winds around making some sharp turns and road changes as you get off 128, but if you follow signs, Treadwell’s is a pretty easy find. It’s location a few blocks south of Bishop Fenwick High School means that you should probably not plan to be there at the same time as school lets out every day, unless you don’t mind being in the midst of a swarm of teens.

The surrounding area is pretty non-descript, without other businesses in the area or any real place that you can walk to with a cone. It’s a town ice cream stand with a big parking lot that doubles as an area that you can wander with your cones. Inside there is a bar with a half dozen seats that face out onto Peabody streets. While standing inside I had a sample of the heavenly hash before going for a whole cone.

For an ice cream place that’s open year round, I would have expected more experimenting and seasonal flavors, but their seasonal options were printed on the main board. Relegated to more basic options the heavenly hash balanced a strong chocolate with a soft marshmallow swirl that pulled in big almond chunks and chocolate chips. A similar consistency to fellow north shore ice cream at Richardson’s, Treadwell’s smaller batches give them a greater sense of character without doing much of anything radical. They just do it right.

For a year ending cone, this was just the right taste: a very Massachusetts cone that’s a crazy combination, but wholly traditional at the same time. I may start sharing some of my more successful recipes with my ice cream machine, but with my attempts going to the radical (dragonfruit ice cream with a kiwi compote anyone?) there are some grand failures as well. Even bad ice cream is still edible though.

Cone – kiddie $2.75 small $3.50 large $4.25

Sundae $5.25

Frappe – small $3.45 medium $3.85 large $4.75

Treadwell’s World Famous Ice Cream

46 Margin Street (Route 114), Peabody, MA 01960

978 531-7010

Open year round

Monday-Saturday 10a-10 Sunday 11a-10p


Sugar & Ice – Barrington NH

31 08 2011

The fun thing about being early is that you can venture out and discover other places. Having already trekked to Dover to visit Golick’s, today I drove to the next town west and found myself to a miniature toyland that also makes some fine ice cream on the premises. I checked things out while walking around with an Orange Ginger waffle cone.

Even though Sugar & Ice is set back from the road, it seems like the sort of place that is difficult to drive past without noticing. Firstly there’s a color scheme with pastel yellows and pinks that dominates the landscape, but dotting that entire terrain are wooden signs of various shapes and sizes that seem like they should be posted around town with arrows leading people here. The fact that the Mad Hatter is among the things adorning these signs is the most revealing aspect of what’s going on here. The rest of the back yard is full of those oversized playskool yard toys that seem to be some toddler’s greatest dream.

Pink picnic tables seem to mark the perimeter of the land that the ice cream joint uses here, and there’s a massive oversized umbrella that fits another seating section beneath it. Open and spacious, there are sight lines so that parents can be sitting in real seats and yet still be able to keep an eye on how their kids are adding grass stains to their pants. Located on 125 up here, you’ve really got to be heading here to find this place, but if you’ve got kids with you, it’s worth the extra miles.

They’ve got someone who works here that has great penmanship as the signs all around the windows are full of colorful slogans and menu options and tips to put up pictures of your kids on facebook to get free stuff. Walking up there’s an incredible smell as it seems like they’re making waffle cones freshly as I pulled into the lot. I look at the specials, but all that’s left is the orange ginger, which I sample and quickly commit to a whole cone, and one of those waffle ones at that.

Firstly, I realize that the waffle cones weren’t being made and stacked, they were made to order as I grab my cone and feel the warmth emanating between me and the ice cream. It makes me want to dive in for fear of the ice cream quickly melting away, but its cold enough to hold its own. The ice cream has that sweet subtle orange flavor that you’re more likely to find in an orange pineapple than a creamsicle. In fact, the pineapple is a very apt comparison as the pieces of ginger take their place to make a very elegant mix. In a place where the color schemes cream kids, a flavor like this shows that they know well how to keep all of their audience interested.

This side trip was only really an extra ten minutes drive, and with the time to kill, the only thing I would likely have done instead is spend money that’s been burning a hole in my pocket at a music shop or on something even more dumb. I got back to the Barley Pub to find Tim & Djim waiting around so we head out for dinner and then came back to rock things out.

Cone – small $3.50 medium $3.95 large $4.95

Sundae – small $4.95 medium $5.50 large $5.95

Frappe $4.95 extra-thick $5.50

Sugar & Ice Creamery

555 Route 125, Barrington, NH

603 335-1140

Open seasonally (April-October?)

Monday-Thursday noon-9p, Friday & Saturday noon-10p



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